Last November I took the 1-kyu exam. The essay question was as follows along with some thoughts:
Question: Describe some benefits of “kirikaeshi”. 切り返し, 연격
Kirikaeshi, a controlled practice of frontal attack (shomenuchi), body check (taiatari) and alternating left and right strikes (sayumen) to the men at 45 degree angles provides many benefits to the kendo practitioner both as striker and receiver. Kirakaeshi teaches good posture (shisei). It begins and ends with chudan no kamae. The back must be straight in order to strike and receive properly. The importance of proper grip (tenouchi) is also emphasized as well as how and when to relax. Shoulder joints become flexible and arm movement is facilitated. From posture, the benefit proceeds to balance and footwork (ashisabaki) and realization of the proper striking distance (ma’ai) and striking with the proper part of the shinai (monouchi) and the cutting edge with the proper force. The principle of harmonized spirit-sword-body (ki-ken-tai-ichi) is maintained through each strike. Often, kirikaeshi may be the first experience of being hit on the men by a shinai. It teaches one to be comfortable with being hit and how to receive the men strike and not to be afraid. Finally, it teaches you how to breath and give good kiai. As always, alertness (zanshin) should be maintained throughout.
To summarize, the benefits of kirikaeshi are proper posture, proper grip, flexible joints and arm movements, balance, proper footwork, proper striking distance, proper striking technique with use of the cutting edge, ki-ken-tai-ichi (spirit-sword-body). It teaches you to relax and remain calm, to receive strikes properly, to not be afraid, proper breathing and endurance, proper kiai and alertness.
Kirikaeshi in essence is an exercise in the basic essentials of proper kendo.
Tokeshi Jinichi (2003). Kendo: Elements, rules and philosophy (pp. 110-111). Honolulu, HI: Univ of Hawaii Press.
Sasamori Junzo and Warner Gordon (1989). This is kendo: The art of japanese fencing (pp. 107-109). Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing.
Donohue John (1999). Complete kendo (pp. 63-66). Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing.
Ozawa Hiroshi (1997). Kendo: the definitive guide (pp. 45-47). New York, NY: Kodansha International.